Blackwater USA is facing a lawsuit over the September 16 killings in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. The largest mercenary company working for the US State Department in Iraq, Blackwater may soon need more lawyers on its payroll than it has armed operatives in Baghdad.
Even before its operatives opened fire on a crowded Baghdad street in mid-September, allegedly killing seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounding twenty-four others, Blackwater faced two wrongful death lawsuits in the United States stemming from its activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, a federal investigation into arms smuggling accusations and a mounting Congressional inquiry. Now the stakes have gotten even higher for the politically connected mercenary firm.
The families of three Iraqis killed in the Nisour Square shootings have filed a major lawsuit in a US federal court in Washington, DC, against Erik Prince‘s firm, charging that Blackwater’s actions amounted to “extra-judicial killing” and “war crimes.” The case was filed by veteran lawyer Susan Burke in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights and attorney Shereef Hadi Akeel.
“Blackwater’s repeated and consistent failure to act in accord with the law of war, US law and international law harms our nation and it harms Iraq,” says CCR president Michael Ratner. “For the good of both nations, as well as for countless innocent civilians, the company cannot be allowed to continue operating extra-legally, providing mercenaries who flout all kinds of law.” The suit is believed to be the first US case brought by Iraqi civilians against a private armed military company, though Burke is also suing the US contracting firms Titan and CACI for their alleged role in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The three Iraqis named in the lawsuit who were killed on September 16–Oday Ismail Ibraheem, Himoud Saed Atban and Usama Fadhil Abbass–had fourteen children among them, one an infant, according to Burke. “Needless to say, we are very interested in holding this company accountable and in pursuing the lawsuit vigorously,” she said. Another plaintiff, Talib Mutlaq Deewan, was injured during the incident. The lawsuit “seeks punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish Erik Prince and his Blackwater companies for their repeated callous killing of innocents.”
The suit comes just days after the Iraqi government released its official report on the Nisour Square shooting. In the report, Baghdad calls on US authorities to hand over the Blackwater shooters to be prosecuted in Iraqi courts. The government also wants Blackwater to pay $8 million to each of the seventeen victims’ families, totaling $136 million, an amount the government report says is warranted “because Blackwater uses employees who disrespect the rights of Iraqi citizens even though they are guests in this country.” Iraq backed off initial demands that the company immediately leave the country, saying it wanted Washington to sever all contracts with Blackwater within six months.